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Signs of Allergies in Your Pet and Therapeutic Options

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If your dog or cat is super itchy during the spring, summer, or fall, it could mean your pet has allergies! It’s very important to pay attention to your pet’s symptoms and discuss your concerns with your family veterinarian or a board-certified veterinary dermatologist. Your pet does not need to be itchy and uncomfortable; there are various therapeutic options for managing your pet’s allergies. But before we review those, it’s important to discuss how pet owners can recognize the signs of allergies in their pet.

Signs of Allergies in Pets

Signs of allergies often start as itching followed by chewing, biting, scratching, or licking. Red skin and hair loss are also common. Blackened and thickened skin that looks like elephant skin are symptoms of a long duration of uncontrolled disease. Also, dogs with allergies frequently develop ear infections and many pets with allergies also have infections from bacteria and yeast.

Allergies and Infections from Bacteria and Yeast

Infections from bacteria and yeast are common with allergies since the immune system is not responding properly to fight the organisms normally found on the skin. Additionally, dogs that chew, bite, scratch, and lick disturb the top layer of skin that protects again infection. Licking and chewing also lead to a warm, moist environment which bacteria and yeast thrive on.

  • Signs of bacterial infection include red and yellow bumps, scabs, scaling, hair loss, and/or increased itching.
  • Signs of a yeast infection include darkened, red, moist, oily skin and/or increased itching.

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Environmental Allergies

Of dogs with allergies, 85% have environmental allergies. This is caused by dust, dust mites, grasses, molds, weeds, and/or trees. As you can imagine, avoidance of environmental allergies is nearly impossible as pets usually have multiple allergies. There is no known cure for environmental allergies and treatment will be for life.

Therapeutic Options

There are a variety of therapeutic options for managing your pet’s allergies. It is common for veterinarians to recommend multiple options to find the best allergic control with the fewest side effects:

  • Allergy Shots or Drops
    • Intradermal allergy testing or serum allergy testing is performed to diagnose your pet’s allergens. Then allergy shots or drops are created for your pet that contain the environmental allergens to which your pet had an allergic reaction. Formulation of this immunotherapy is the only specific treatment for environmental allergies.
    • Allergy shots/drops work in 60-70% of patients, but they may take several months to a year to work.
    • The shots are given at home with the first few months being more frequent and tapering to every 20 days for life. If you prefer not to give shots, the drops are given by mouth (absorbed through the gums) once daily.
    • This is the safest option for controlling moderate to severe allergies.

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  • Cytopoint
    • This is fast-acting and frequently effective for itching.
    • It is safe in most dogs with low side effects.
    • It is not very helpful for infections or inflammation.
    • A veterinary team member administers the injection.
    • It lasts for 4-8 weeks in most dogs.
    • NOT recommended for cats.
  • Apoquel (Oclacitinib)
    • This is fast-acting and frequently effective for itching.
    • It is not always helpful for infections or inflammation.
    • Blood tests are often recommended by many veterinarians as it can cause a reduction in the immune system.
    • Rarely, it can cause decreased appetite, vomiting, or diarrhea.
    • This is less effective at preventing ear and skin infections.
    • It should NOT be used in dogs with pre-existing cancer or deep infections.
    • NOT recommended in dogs less than 12 months of age.
    • NOT recommended for cats.
  • Atopica (Cyclosporine)
    • This is frequently effective but a slower acting treatment.
    • Blood tests are often recommended by many veterinarians as Atopica can cause a reduction in the immune system.
    • It can have more side effects in some dogs and close monitoring is often recommended by veterinarians.
    • It is effective at helping prevent ear and skin infections caused by allergies.

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  • Prednisone (Steroids)
    • Blood tests are often recommended by many veterinarians as Prednisone can cause a reduction in the immune system, liver changes, and urinary infections.
    • Will increase thirst, urination, and hunger in many dogs.
    • Long-term side effects can include thinning of the skin, weakened muscles, poor hair coat, liver changes, and occasionally kidney changes.
    • Many veterinarians recommend it be given every other day or less frequently if used long-term.
  • Antihistamines
    • Extremely safe, inexpensive, and easy to purchase.
    • Only works for a low level of itching.
    • Not often helpful as solo therapy for severe itching or infections.
    • Can be added to all other allergy therapy options with cumulative effects.
    • Talk to your veterinarian about safe options and doses for your pet.
  • Fish Oil
    • Safe, inexpensive, easy to purchase.
    • Only works for a low level of itching.
    • Do not give if your pet has food allergies.
    • Can take 3-4 months to see improvement and improvement is often mild.
  • Baths
    • It is often recommended that environmentally allergic dogs be bathed once or twice weekly.
    • Baths remove allergens from the skin, reducing the allergic response.
    • Baths can also reduce bacteria or yeast infections with an antimicrobial shampoo that your veterinarian may recommend.

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If your pet is itching, please talk to your family veterinarian. They can help keep your pet comfortable and happy year-round! If your family veterinarian does not offer dermatology services or if your pet’s allergies are severe and not easily managed, your family veterinarian may choose to refer you to a board-certified veterinary dermatologist.

Please note that Animal Emergency & Referral Center of Minnesota’s Dermatology service is not currently seeing new clients. Due to the pandemic, Dr. Meyer, our board-certified veterinary dermatologist, is only seeing already established clients for telemedicine appointments and curbside care until she begins her maternity leave this summer. We anticipate she will be accepting new cases starting in October or November of 2020. Please watch our Facebook page for updates this fall. 

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